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Vets Views: Iraq, Afghanistan vets may be entitled to disability benefits

Greg Remus

Are you an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran discharged during the period of September 2001 - December 2009?

You may be entitled to disability retirement benefits.

The U.S. Department of Defense recently announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense's Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) will work together to notify 77,000 post-9/11 veterans that they are potentially eligible to receive increased disability benefits if they appeal the decision made when they left the military.

The PDBR will let these veterans know they can apply to have the board review their records - which could result in higher benefits or even full medical retirement. The mailings were scheduled to start in January.

The PDBR was established in 2009 to allow Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to appeal their service-assigned disability ratings. (Note this is different from a VA-assigned disability rating and if your service-assigned rating is 30 percent or higher you would probably be entitled to retirement benefits.)

The PDBR has found that 56 percent of the veterans who have applied received higher combined disability ratings following a review -- but while approximately 77,000 veterans are eligible to appeal nationwide, only 2,411 veterans have applied. It should be noted that the PDBR cannot lower a previously standing disability determination -- ratings can only be upgraded or confirmed.

This statistic clearly indicates the previous boards were improperly rating disabilities.

What happens if you are successful in the process of getting your case reviewed by the PDBR and finalized by your military department?

n You will receive (retroactively to the day of your original disability separation) monthly disability retirement pay from your military service. NOTE: By law, all previously awarded disability pay must be offset from these new retirement payments. This includes the original disability severance pay you may have been awarded from your military service department as well as any VA disability pay you've received.

n You will be eligible for DoD's TRICARE health care coverage retroactively to the day of your original disability separation. Coverage is extended to your eligible dependents as well.

n You will be eligible to buy the Survivor's Benefit Plan insurance for your dependants.

n You (and your eligible dependants) will have all rights and privileges of a retired Veteran (e.g. commissary, exchange, space available recreation and travel, other benefits available via State and private sector organizations.)

It is a simple process. You must be a Veteran separated between 9/11/01 and 12/31/09 with 0, 10, or 20% combined disability. You submit a signed DD-294 to the PDBR Central Intake Unit (CITU) in San Antonio, Texas. The CITU will request your medical and disability evaluation documentation from the VA and your Military Department.

The PDBR will review and adjudicate the case & forward the recommendation to the Designated Decision Authority (DDA.) Then the DDA will make the final decision. If your disability separation is re- characterized as a disability retirement, the DDA will coordinate the correction of your military record as well as pay with DFAS and VA.

The bottom line is if you were discharged during this time period with a disability evaluation from the military of 0 percent, 10 percent or 20 percent you should have your disability evaluation reviewed. This process must be initiated by the veteran and it could make a significant difference in your quality of life.

I encourage you to contact me to start the process.

As always the purpose of the Hubbard County Veteran Service Office is to provide assistance and support to eligible veterans, their dependents and survivors in obtaining benefits through the State and Federal Departments of Veterans Affairs, and to provide benefit counseling, claims service, referral and assistance in a variety of other programs. You can contact me at the Hubbard County Veteran Service Office at 201 Fair Ave, Park Rapids, 732-3561. Have a great day!

Please note - I will be in Laporte at the Lakeport Town Hall from 9 a.m. to-noon on the third Friday of each month for the next 2 months due to scheduling conflicts.